Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Historian

By Elizabeth Kostova.

For my brother, P...

I tend to be intimidated by mammoth tomes. Be it my slow reading or the devotion required to see such a volume to the finish, I generally prefer novels of 200-500 pages. That said, I might have independently chosen this 704-page opus due to the controversy surrounding its quality – reviews either rave or rant, but certainly none sit on the fence. Had it not been for a promise to my brother over the holidays, (“You pick a book, and we’ll read it together!”) this queue-jumper would have been relegated back to the bookshelf within 100 pages.

Ms. Kostova’s epic Dracula-cum-Da Vinci Code novel is an update to the Bram Stoker original. Over 10 years in the making, Ms. Kostova received a sizable advance ($2 million from Time Warner), sold the rights to Hollywood, won the Hopwood Award for Novel-in-Progress, and became a New York Times No 1 bestseller during her first week in print. Surely this must be decent popular fiction?

Despite being well research, I found the novel overly detailed and more of a meandering travelogue than a vampire-hunting ghost story. Similarly, the plotline is highly predictable (owning to its faithfulness to numerous genres – adventure, historical, mystery, science fiction, thriller; oh and did I mention romance?) and filled with uncanny coincidences involving the introduction of new characters just in time to provide the principles with new information to further their quest. It is over 500-pages before Dracula shows his undead head and then as a maniacal egomaniac. Given popular culture’s present love of celebrity, again such a baddie is not completely unexpected.

In spite of these shortcomings, I was intrigued by the structure of the novel. Ms. Kostova weaves together three Dracula quests, roughly thirty years apart, through a series of letters and flashbacks within the most contemporary quest. Cunning, and undoubtedly requiring a white-board on the author’s part, this device was almost enough to keep me plowing through the pages. Almost.

Given these plot failings; it is hard to recommend this tome. After three months plodding through this novel, I strong endorse waiting for the movie! (And as everyone knows, I prefer to read the book.)

Next Up:
While on the road in Amsterdam, I recently found myself fiction-less. Generally, I don’t travel with novels in tow; I’m out experiencing the world, not reading about it. But, after galavanting all day, the tootsies, and camera, needed a brake. I was given Jodi Picoult’s Keeping Faith by the hotel proprietor and offer it for your consideration.